Grits & Grins in Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, S.C. packs history, beaches, family fun and great food into this town full of Southern Charm. Every spring millions of families on the East Coast will head south in search of warmer weather, beaches and family fun. While Florida may seem the obvious choice, charming Charleston, South Carolina serves up a side of history with its springtime sunshine.  

With March temperatures averaging in the low 70s and the city’s gardens in full bloom, spring is the perfect time to visit. Charleston is a nine-hour drive from Annapolis and a 90-minute flight from BWI on Southwest.

“Charleston is the ideal location for a family getaway,” says Doug Warner of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It does not matter if your family’s preferred vacation style is high-energy or low-key; Charleston offers plenty of

age-appropriate activities designed for family fun.”

Charleston features world-renowned restaurants and museums, and miles of unspoiled beaches, so it’s easy to see why Charleston was recently voted America’s favorite city by Travel + Leisure magazine.

Take a Carriage Ride

The most popular way to see the Charleston is from the top of a horse-drawn carriage as it clops its way through the cobblestone streets of the historic district. Carriages are stationed at the City Market and meander through residential streets of the historic district, ensuring your family a bird’s-eye view of the city’s grand homes and gardens. Carriage tours range in price but most companies like Palmetto Carriage Works (palmettocarriage.com) or Old South Carriage Company (oldsouthcarriage.com) offer coupons and discounts right on the spot at the City Market or through hotels and the Charleston Visitors Bureau.

Visit a Plantation
Immerse your family in the South’s unique history with a visit to a plantation. At Middleton Place (middletonplace.org), visitors can wander among the 65 acres of terraced gardens, tour a preserved slave cabin or view a 900-year-old live oak. At Drayton Hall (draytonhall.org), the oldest preserved plantation in the country, families can tour a Georgian-Palladian mansion, stroll the banks of the Ashley River, or take a fascinating African-American history tour. Magnolia Plantation (magnoliaplantation.com) offers the most activities for families, with a tram that tours the extensive grounds, a petting zoo, and a boat ride through flooded rice fields where kids may even spot a gator or two.  

Taste the Lowcountry Cuisine
Foodie families will discover gastronomic heaven in a city known for its delicious cuisine. Try the famed shrimp and grits at Hominy Grill (hominygrill.com) or savor the South’s best breakfast at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit (calliesbiscuits.com). Kids will love hearing the story of Poogan the dog at the city’s most haunted restaurant, Poogan’s Porch (poogansporch.com), which serves up southern favorites like fried chicken and finger-licking ribs. For a traditional Lowcountry shrimp boil, make the short drive over the gorgeous Arthur Ravenel Bridge to Mt. Pleasant and dine on the creek at the Wreck (wreckrc.com), a local seafood haunt named for the trawler that landed on the same spot in Shem Creek during Hurricane Hugo in 1989.  

Soak Up Some History

Charles Towne Landing
Located on the Ashley River, Charles Towne Landing (southcarolinaparks.com/charles-towne-landing) is a historic site where settlers arrived in 1670 to found the Carolina colony. Families can tour the Adventure, a replica 17th-century ship, watch colonial reenactments, see cannons being fired, or stroll the 80-acres of gardens and live oaks.

Fort Sumter
Take your kids to Fort Sumter (nps.gov/fosu) the place where the first shots were fired on April 12, 1861, sparking the Civil War. Fort Sumter is only reached by boat and ferries depart from Liberty Square (340 Concord Street) in the historic district or from Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant. Patriot’s Point also affords the opportunity to tour the USS Yorktown, an enormous aircraft carrier. Kids will love the ferry ride over to Fort Sumter and the two-hour guided tours included in the ticket price begin right on the boat. Inside the Fort, kids can explore the cannons and observation decks or take part in the Junior Ranger program, which challenges kids to a scavenger hunt as they solve the hidden mysteries of this national landmark.

Beaches and Wildlife

Sullivan’s Island and Folly Beach
The Charleston area is home to miles of beaches, from secluded Isle of Palms to the natural state parks of Kiawah. Families don’t need to travel far to sink their feet in the sand, with Sullivan’s Island just nine miles from downtown. Sullivan’s Island is known for its quiet beaches and small-town charm. Explore the local boutiques or grab a bite at Poe’s Tavern, named for Sullivan’s most famous one-time resident. Military buffs will love Fort Moultrie, a historic landmark with a visitor’s center featuring artifacts from pre-Revolutionary times through the Cold War.

Families looking for more action should head to Folly Beach, also known as the Edge of America. Just fifteen minutes from downtown, Folly is known as one of the best surfing spots on the East Coast. Kids can take surfing lessons at Shaka Surf School (shakasurfschool.com) or take a dolphin-watching tour with Flipper Finders (flipperfinders.com) on the Folly River. Young anglers will love Folly’s fishing pier that extends more than 1,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean.  

South Carolina Aquarium
Located right on Charleston Harbor, the South Carolina Aquarium (scaquarium.org) is home to more than 5,000 animals, including alligators, a bald eagle, eels, sharks and sea turtles. The aquarium invites kids to touch whelks, sea urchins, stingrays and horseshoe crabs in their touch tanks or take a walk through native salt marsh aviaries where they can see herons and puffer fish. Kids can even take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Sea Turtle Care Center, which nurses injured South Carolina sea turtles back to good health.  

Lodging
Hotels in Charleston can be pricey, but luckily there are endless choices from luxurious full-service hotels with pools to charming bed-and-breakfasts. For a central location in town, check in to the Hampton Inn Historic District (from $169; 345 Meeting Street; hamptoninn3.hilton.com) or The Mills House Wyndham Grand hotel (from $220; 115 Meeting Street; millshouse.com), located directly across from the historic City Market. For a budget-friendly option, stay just outside of the historic district in West Ashley at the Comfort Suites, West of the Ashley (from $95; 2080 Savannah Hwy.; choicehotels.com), located in close proximity to several plantations and an easy 10-minute drive to downtown.  

For more information on Charleston, including detailed family-friendly itineraries, visit the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau online at charlestoncvb.com

—Katie Riley

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